‘The Drinking Coach’ Tiffanie Barriere on the Importance of Sharing Black, LGBTQ+ Stories
Sidle up to her bar for a history lesson along with your cocktail.
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When bartender Tiffanie Barriere started making cocktails for competitions, other contestants spun tales about their drinks, saying, “This bottle came from Lord So-And-So or Count Campari,” she remembers. It led her to wonder, “Why the hell am I not sharing my story?”
Barriere quickly zeroed in on the missing link: “Black stories in America sucked. We were in slavery for a very long time and there aren't a lot of great ones.” In the overwhelmingly white, straight, and male world of craft beverages, Barriere stands out. In her seven years as beverage director at the renowned One Flew South in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, she says customers were, “Just not used to seeing a Black woman with bald hair coming in and shooting the game.”
But she never let that stop her, instead connecting with the restaurant and bar’s then-chef Duane Nutter in sharing overtly Black food and drink lore. Nutter hailed from Louisville, where he grew up with the stories of pre-prohibition bartenders. Hearing those furthered Barriere’s epiphany that she needed to bring the little-told histories of Black people in the drink industry to her audience. “I was really selling the cocktail versus the culture,” she tells Thrillist. But she was done with that. “We’re actually going to talk about slavery.”
Using the expertise she honed in the hospitality industry — in education and communication — she built her own business, The Drinking Coach, focused on sharing her stories and the story of her people through beverages. “Just really catching into who I am and that's a boozy Black gay woman who wants to teach,” she says.
“The restaurant really helped me not only be me, but be all the way me.”
She dug in, finding the great stories — or stories she could make great — that needed to be told: that of people like Juniper Evans, the enslaved man Thomas Jefferson relied on for cider making knowhow, or bootlegger Birdie Brown of Montana. “[Black people] are the service industry and we’ve been the service industry in this country since the 1600s,” Barriere says. She made a point to share stories honestly, though always framed “to bring some victory to them.”
Barriere still considers her job, first and foremost, to be bartender. “All bartenders have stories,” she says. But in her time at One Flew South, she realized that her own expertise in the industry lay in connecting to people over drinks — a skill she attributes to her own upbringing.
“The South is known for service,” says Barriere, and she grew up steeped in that culture, hanging out on porches, cooking, and making cocktails for guests. When she got older and needed a job to pay for school, the restaurant industry became the obvious choice. “They were trying to teach me things I already knew,” she says. “How to be nice and how to check on people. I was crushing it.”
Professional success also brought Barriere another opportunity. “It allowed me to expose myself the way I wanted to and be myself,” she says. Barriere came out to her family as a senior in high school. She then moved to Atlanta, where a cousin (who is also gay) already lived because, “It seemed like the Mecca.” She went to her first gay bar, “I was like, ‘It’s a wrap, y’all.’”
The restaurant industry gave her the space to celebrate her identity. “When you're at work it doesn't matter what you are, it just matters about how good you are,” she says. “I found so many other gay humans that I could connect with and be with, grow with, and it just solidified everything,” Barriere says. “The restaurant really helped me not only be me, but be all the way me.”
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But after seven years at One Flew South, guiding it to numerous prestigious national and international awards, she saw no way to move up, so she set out on her own path. “How can I make money getting tipsy every day?” she jokes of the goal.
She used the questions people from all over the world had asked — why is this sweet, why is that sour — combined with the history of the spirits themselves, to create a curriculum designed to educate without intimidating. She started hosting mixology classes, conversations, and pop-ups, and began flying out to speak at bars and events, often speaking to fellow bartenders. Barriere got to be a part of big events, work on dinners at the James Beard House, and “Just really be accepted beyond ‘she makes a cool drink,’” she says. “It was exciting to actually be myself, to be Black, be gay, be Southern, and enjoy alcohol.”
When the pandemic hit, it came with the opportunity to expand her audience. “I was concerned about how I was going to do because I was so independent,” she says. But when everything went virtual, emails and requests flooded in. She started teaching 10 classes a week, all while “our country was going through all that — a whole civil rights movement, a whole queer movement, a whole election.” But she once again found herself through her workplace — this time as an independent business owner. “I just prevailed with really loving who I was and representing it through the glass,” Barriere says.
She went from posting sentences as captions on her Instagram to whole paragraph stories and saw people responding to the details she wanted to share: the history of Black people in the service industry whose stories rarely got told. Her account reads exactly like her — effervescent and informative, with history told like gossiping about friends over drinks — whether about a 19th century Black women saloon owner, the history of Memorial Day, or a new gin she’s stoked about.
That response was the first of three recent moments that showed her how — and how much — her work resonates. The second came in the form of the January/February issue of Imbibe magazine that arrived on her doorstep with her face on the cover, as one of “The Imbibe 75” who are working to build a better drinks world.
“I just prevailed with really loving who I was and representing it through the glass.”
The third came more recently, when she watched the new Netflix series High on the Hog. “It's been a small pod of us having these conversations on Black influence and all of these connotations of American food being influenced by Black and African Americans,” she says. Seeing people recognizing these stories and the roles they play stunned her. “This is what we do,” she says. “It feels like Christmas.”
It also gave her a more tangible vision for what she wants next for herself. While she currently is working with Toni Tipton Martin on the Jubilee and The Jemima Code author’s next book, reflecting on African American influence in cocktails, and heading up the booze for the first Black Food and Wine Festival in Charlotte, North Carolina, later this year, she sees mainstream television as a goal. Anything from a miniseries like High on the Hog, to a silly Chopped style show — but with alcohol.
She looks forward to more Black stories, and the stories we know, being more researched, particularly queer stories — those of people that couldn’t be out in their time. “Not these jaded, ‘that was my best friend’ stories,” she says, homing in on what makes her work so significant: “At one point those stories were never allowed to be shared and those that are gone would have never thought they would be shared.”
But as that changes, she plans to make sure those stories are shared and shared with victory. “The progression is happening, people are listening,” Barriere says. And if they aren’t, “At least there is space to request or demand respect; I am ready for it.”